Maxine Drake was the Guild’s Homosexual Information Officer in the 80s. Throughout her time at WAIT (Curtin) and after graduation, she was highly involved with gay rights and the gay liberation movement in WA. She is currently an ambassador at the Same-Sex Parent’s Association and an advocacy consultant at Developmental Disability WA.
We chatted about the feminism and gay liberation movements during her time at university, how she came about the role and what she took away from it.
By Daryna Zadvirna
When were you a student at Curtin/WAIT and what were you studying?
I was a student from 1982 and I studied social sciences sociology and anthropology.
How would you describe being a student at Curtin/WAIT in the 80s?
Well, firstly the education was free back then! But I was a runaway from Sydney. So, I was raised in Sydney, did Sydney University but I didn't do well, so I came here (Perth) and I was young—maybe 19—and that’s when I realised I was a young lesbot. Then I got involved in the feminist stuff and feminist activity on campus and that led to my involvement with the Guild.
So how exactly did you become the Homosexual Information Officer?
Well there was a little office that had been given over as a women's room, so I was hanging around there, hanging around on Guild and I was employed at the Tavern as well. You see, you either cared that the guild existed, or you didn't care that the guild existed--there were two groups of students. Some of us obviously got involved in those sorts of politics and others just didn't and got on with their studies or getting drunk!
But there was a group of us that were involved in Guild politics at some level. And as for the Homosexual information Officer role, well I don't know who invented it or where it came from--I was really young and clueless! But obviously it was someone's bright idea that I should take on the role. What it meant was that I was called on at times to come and talk to students, student groups, psychology students, welfare prac students, but especially with students about being gay. I didn't know much about it myself at the time—clearly, I knew more than everyone else. It was just the beginning of that, you know, that social justice movement around sexuality politics, and I just happened to be around at the time.
What were some of the highlights and challenges of your role? Do any particular memories pop-up in your mind?
Well, the reason I could do the role at all was because I lived in a city other than the one my family were in, so I could be open at a level that a lot of my peers couldn't. I had the freedom of being a refugee from across the other side of the country, so I was able to be open and free—I think that's probably why it made it easy for me to fulfil that role. And I think one of the interesting things about it was that if I go to talk to groups of students about homosexual awareness of something, I suppose I'd hear everybody's stereotype because they might not have ever met an openly homosexual person. But they'd have a heap of stereotypes and they just throw those at me and I'd have to kind of answer them--even though I didn't know the answers myself. So my coming was helped along really by going and hearing everybody else's views about what homosexuality was about and, and measuring it against my own understanding and experience. I helped me decide that I was okay with it and you know, I didn't have to hide myself.
So then because I was a Homosexual Information Officer I got involved in the early establishment of the AIDS council. And we were handing out information sheets on campus. They were probably the first AIDS information sheets that were made in the country.
Wow, that's incredibe!
Yeah, so it was obviously somebody with really progressive thinking on the Guild who decided to establish this role and some reason I said yes and took it on. And then I was recruited to be on the AIDS council. So thats my working life started.
So, what did you do once you graduated?
Well I was already working at the AIDS council to finish my last unit in anthropology and then I was already employed. And by then the AIDS crisis was, you know, like a war zone and we were living out those liberation politics, trying not to lose ground.
It's amazing that you managed to get a job even before graduating.
Yeah, I was just incredibly lucky that I was chosen, I didn't find it--they found me! They said come we want to interview for this job. Obviously back then they needed the people who were comfortable enough to be talking about these kinds of controversial issues in the public space, and I was shown that I was able to. But I do think that my freedom from family, from being in a city in which my family wasn't made a massive difference because I could be out and open in a way that a lot of peers just couldn't back then.
What purpose do you think the Guild serves for students and how important was it then—and now?
I think it was and is a training ground for anybody who has political tendencies, they could go and exercise their political muscles in the Guild. What you had with the guild was some power and some people would seek to access that power to express themselves in a way. So, the Guild was, you know, a bit of a soap opera—an on-campus soap. But I think that's the purpose that the Guild served—giving people the chance to express themselves, their political selves. And so, I think they're really important of Curtin, they're a union for students on campus.
But back then I suppose what the Guild did was take a stand in terms of the social movements at the time, the Women's Liberation Movement and the Gay Liberation Movement--and they backed them. The Guild essentially backed them by giving them some space and some platform to promote that message--and I think it was a really important message. I wouldn't have got connected into the social justice community if it hadn't have happened at uni.